"SUBMERGED" is SciArt Center's most recent exhibition, and surrounds themes of water in its variety of forms and the creatures that inhabit it. Exhibit curator Marnie Benney asked artist duo Julia Krolik and Owen Fernley to share a bit about their work, and the artistic and scientific processes behind their piece Depth to Water:
Marnie Benney: Can you explain the relationship between your research and chosen medium and how one informs the other?
Julia Krolik: Several years ago, my work revolved around groundwater quality in the context of public health. As such, I used several groundwater and geological datasets over the course of my research. The dataset used in Depth to Water consists of all the recorded wells in Ontario, a province in Canada. It also happens to be open access and contains interesting information that most people will not have a chance to interact with or interpret. My biggest passion is science accessibility and in this particular artwork, the scientific data is the medium. Collaborating with Owen brought this data to life.
Owen Fernley: Most of my creations are digital and for the web. Although my research began in scientific programming, I have also experimented in audio and conceptual art projects, and found that I could control audio and manipulate pixels and graphics using HTML5. I have since applied this to a long term project I am working on that visualizes electromagnetic fields in exploration geophysics. Depth to Water is built using HTML5 as well. The projects I work on continually inform and improve upon each other.
MB: What do you think of the union of art and science?
JK: At one point in my life, I had two completely different CVs - one documenting my career as a science researcher, and the other as an exhibiting artist. I was doing science by day and art by night, and depending on who you asked in my community, I was either an artist or a scientist. I have a hard time looking at these disciplines separately, especially because I feel that I embody that union.
OF: I remember reading about why humans should travel to space alongside robotic explorers: the first-hand experience of a human may lead to new discoveries not programmed into a rover protocol. A hypothesis is often more pertinent after a scientist freely experiments and an idea is often more crystalline when an artist works within a system. There needs to be a balance.
MB: What was your greatest learning when you were creating this artwork?
OF: Whenever someone drills a well in Ontario, they complete a well record. The entries from these records are filled with different handwriting over the years. Color of soil; reddish. Depth of hole; 87’. Depth to water; 72’. A crude map of the location of the well and a signature on the bottom. Individually, this paperwork is a small formality. But once the records are brought together, a clear rural infrastructure could be seen that hints at the subsurface of the entire region. When the code ran for the first time, I remember Julia and I just watching for a while.
JK: Although I have seen the geography of the dataset used in Depth to Water many times, I had never looked at it outside the scope of my research until we decided to create an artwork. We were speechless when we first ran the test code to discover that the geography of the province is completely recognizable just by the holes in the ground.
MB: If you had unlimited resources what would your next project be?
JK: This is an interesting question. I actually believe that limits can yield the most creative and innovative outcomes. For instance, forcing a graphic design to be solely in black and white can still yield an impactful and stunning product without using color as a resource. Adding more resources to poorly conceived ideas will not make them better. In other words, I feel that I am already doing projects that I passionately believe in, despite having unlimited resources. That said, if I really did have unlimited resources I would probably get into extraterrestrial landscape photography.
OF: Julia and I did a lot of work as an experimental music duo. It was a lot of fun, and opened up a constant stream of ideas and concepts we could explore on a day-to-day basis. Given unlimited resources, I’d like to explore more of that. The peak of human existence, for me, is being able to follow one’s heart and instincts and discover the undiscovered.